Have you heard the story of the Nun in the Nightgown?
Wagga Wagga has been witness to a number of scandals since its earliest times. Some of these incidents went on to make national and even international headlines. In the twentieth century one of the most notorious scandals to erupt in Wagga was that involving the infamous Sister Ligouri, or alternatively “the Nun in the Nightgown”, case which put Wagga Wagga once again in the spotlight.
Sister Ligouri (who was born Bridget Mary Partridge) arrived at the Mount Erin Convent on 21 February 1909 after entering the Order of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ireland. By 1920, Sister Ligouri had apparently decided that she no longer wished to remain at the Convent and on 24 July she left the Convent and spent the afternoon at the Burgess family home in Coleman Street.
During this time, she apparently phoned and spoke with Bishop Joseph Dwyer, before returning to the Convent later that evening in the company of several other nuns. She was seen by a doctor who prescribed bed rest, but when put to bed she refused a sedative in the belief that it was poison, and when left unattended Sister Ligouri again absconded from the Convent, this time in her nightgown and without any shoes.
Once Sister Ligouri was discovered missing, the Convent contacted the police who, together with some Catholic laymen, searched the neighbourhood until morning when they were informed that the nun was indeed safe, and had sought refuge at the Thompson family home in Coleman Street.
Later in the day, under much secrecy, Sister Ligouri was driven to Adelong, and eventually to Sydney, with the help of Mr EB Barton, Grandmaster of the Loyal Orange Lodge of NSW. She ultimately reached the home of Congregational Minister, the Reverend William Touchell at Kogarah. Before leaving Wagga however, Sister Ligouri had written to Bishop Dwyer expressing her desire to resign from the Order and leave the Convent.
On 5 August, at the request of Bishop Dwyer, a warrant was issued in Sydney for the arrest of Sister Ligouri on the grounds of insanity. Two days later she was found and arrested, and appeared before the Lunacy Court on 9 August where, although remanded for observation, she was later certified sane and released on 13 August.
Interestingly, despite the saga beginning on 24 July, neither of Wagga’s newspapers (The Wagga Express or The Daily Advertiser) mentioned the scandal before 5 August. This is even more surprising when one considers the extreme sectarian bitterness of the day, which often spilled over into the press. However, it wasn’t long for the media to begin mass coverage of the story, especially after it was revealed that Sister Ligouri was suing Bishop Dwyer for damages of £5,000, with a guarantee that the Loyal Orange Lodge would cover all her legal costs.
The resulting trial was heard between 30 June and 13 July 1921. The judge found in favour of the Bishop after the four man jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision. In his summation the judge remarked that, “It is very unfortunate for the plaintiff that, at the time she left the Convent she did not meet somebody with a little common horse-sense.”
Unbelievably, the Sister Ligouri scandal did not end there. On the evening of 26 October 1921, Bridget Partridge was sensationally “kidnapped” by a group of men which included her brother. The next day she was recognised and taken to a police station where she renounced her religion and her brother.
Bridget Partridge continued living with the Touchell family in a number of locations throughout Sydney. Reverend Touchell died in 1954, yet strangely in November 1962 both Mrs Touchell and Bridget Partridge were admitted to the Rydalmere Mental Hospital. Just over four years later, still at the Hospital, Bridget Partridge died on 4 December 1966 and was buried at the Rookwood Cemetery with a Congregational service.
As local Wagga historian Keith Swan surmised in his book ‘A History of Wagga Wagga’:
“…ultimately the affair did little good to anyone involved.”
References: ‘A History of Wagga Wagga’ by Keith Swan, pp. 166-169; Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 11, 1891-1939, entry written by Zita Denholm, pp. 151-152.